- Darren Cunningham is an odd choice to helm a mix CD. The Londoner's form-evading musical ideas make for interesting records, but DJ sets don't always benefit from so much coloring outside the lines. Hard cuts, disorienting tempo shifts and spotty mixing are common in Cunningham's sets, and he wears them proudly on his DJ-Kicks, as if they were one-of-a-kind designer outfits. Much like avant-garde clothing, too, the mix can be appreciated for its ingenuity and influences, even if you're less inclined to take it out of the house.
Like other DJ-Kicks alumni—Apparat, Annie, Erlend Øye—Cunningham brings a fresh slant to the waning format of physically released mixes. With his eccentric perspective and crossover appeal, he has the potential to connect DJ-Kicks with audiences outside of the usual club-inclined avenues. You could say he accomplishes as much in the mix—for the most part, anyway. We're unlikely to hear Lorenzo Senni's experimental trance deconstructions, or a 2001 Autechre highlight, or noise peddlers Shit And Shine on any other mix CD anytime soon. But idiosyncratic selections aren't the be-all and end-all of mixes, and Cunningham focuses primarily on selection for his hour-long jaunt through murky technoisms. All too often, though, technique and sequencing seem to have been banned from the booth.
There's a strange moment about halfway through when gears shift from percussive techno to radiant house to a druggy funk groove, all within two minutes. Despite the strength of each individual track, the way Cunningham stitches them together is unpleasantly disorienting. For sure, that may be the point, but it's not one that necessarily needs to be made again and again. Beats frequently fall off suddenly into dark voids, and when they don't, Cunningham superimposes drums on top of drums with the finesse of a first-year film student. Simbiosi's distorted "Impari" is already rough enough on the senses, so when it stumbles into Beneath's finely tuned bass havoc on "Stress 1," you half wish that 90 seconds of audio had just been cut altogether.
Occasionally, though, the style creates effective pairings. "Toil," a bedraggled 808 stepper by Detroit's Snakepiss, perfectly sets the stage for Shit And Shine's "Pearl Drop," whose destroyed dance floor is mirrored against a piano-house classic from Chez N Trent. Then, once that dusty vinyl rip spins off into the HD sonics of Mark Fell, the effect is like a seamless Kubrickian jump cut between two widely disparate eras of dance music. And that's essentially why Actress's DJ-Kicks is worth hearing, jumbled and unwieldy as it may be. Because as it turns out, the same method that can leave you feeling sour and befuddled in one instance just might reveal some thought-provoking truth in the next.
01. Breaker 1 2 - 2
02. Lorenzo Senni - Elegant, And Never Tiring
03. Reel By Real - Look At Me
04. Autechre - Pen Expers
05. Chameleon - Thought 2
06. Beneath - Stress 1
07. Simbiosi - Impari
08. Zennor - Tin
09. John Beltran - Anticipation
10. Moon B - Those Moments
11. STL - Psychelicious
12. Snakepiss - Toil
13. Shit And Shine - Pearl Drop
14. Chez N Trent - Windy City Club
15. Mark Fell - Section 1-7
16. GNESIS - Pear
17. Shxcxchcxsh - LDWGWTT
18. Hank Jackson - Track 3
19. Actress - Bird Matrix (DJ-Kicks)
20. Gherkin Jerks - Red Planet